Auctions | November 26, 2011

Raymond Chandler Collection at Sotheby's

On 13th December 2011 Sotheby’s Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in New York will include The Jean-Vounder Davis Collection of the Raymond Chandler Library -a unique group of books from the collection of one of America’s greatest detective fiction writers. Many of the titles are personalized by the author and offer a fascinating insight to his closest relationships. The writer rarely inscribed his works and this is by far the most important Chandler collection to have appeared on the market.

After Raymond Chandler’s death all of these books, manuscripts, and screenplays entered the library of his secretary and fiancé Jean Vounder-Davis, whose daughter has consigned the collection. Despite a 30 year age gap, Jean cared for the author keeping him healthy, sober, and focused on his writing. In turn he helped to care for her children, becoming their legal guardian.

The group is led by a remarkable double presentation copy of The Big Sleep - Chandler’s momentous first novel - that is inscribed to his beloved wife, Cissy (est.$80/120,000). Raymond Chandler met Cissy Pascal in 1919 after his return from the war. The dominant figure in his life, she would go on to become the crucial force that propelled him into writing. Twenty years his senior, Cissy was married when she met Chandler; however she divorced her husband and married the writer in 1924. In the 1930s Chandler lost his job as an oil company executive as a result of his heavy drinking and promiscuity. This led him to pursue a writing career which started with the publication of The Big Sleep in 1938. The landmark book introduced the character of Philip Marlowe, profoundly changing American detective fiction. This first edition is inscribed: “For my Cissy / Who wants something / much better, but was / pleased even with this / Raymond / La Jolla Jan 1939 / Riverside Feb 1939.”

Chandler’s personal copy of The Big Sleep is also included in the sale with the inscription: “For me / without my compliments / Raymond Chandler / Riverside Feb 1939” (est. $60/80,000). The novel was written over three months in the summer of 1939, with the absence of a clean ending in which justice was served, setting it apart from much detective fiction of the day.

A dedication copy of the first edition of Chandler’s novel Playback has been inscribed to Jean Fracasse, who would later revert to her maiden name of Jean Vounder-Davis. It references the support the author showed his friend during her divorce: “To / Jean / With Love and dedication, and having given me / the opportunity to be her / bulwark and defender / against and odious and /entirely unwarranted attack. / I still am. I always shall / be Ray / La Jolla August 1958” (est. $10/15,000). In addition, the novel is dedicated to Jean along with Chandler’s agent Helga Greene with whom the author would become romantically involved. Even when he was in a relationship with Helga, Chandler continued to provide for Jean Fracasse and her children, even signing over the Commonwealth rights of this book to her. The auction also offers a remarkable insight into two of Chandler’s literary friendships. He met Ian Fleming in 1955 during a dinner at Stephen Spender’s home in London where the James Bond author admired the depth which Chandler had written into his creation, Philip Marlowe. The meeting came at a time when Fleming was considering ending the Bond series, feeling he had reached an impasse with the character. Chandler seems to have reinvigorated his friend, with the subsequent Bond novels displaying the kind of rich character development he associated with Philip Marlowe.

A first edition of Goldfinger is a superb example of the friendship between the two authors and is inscribed: “To Ray / with much affection / from / Ian” (est. $60/80,000). In his first edition copy of From Russia With Love
Chandler has graded the previous Bond titles, ironically, From Russia With Love receives only a B unlike Moonraker and Live and Let Die which are both awarded an A (est. $10/15,000).

In a copy of Three of a Kind, the author James Cain thanks Chandler for his work on the Double Indemnity movie script (est. $15/20,000). Chandler did not enjoy the experience, but the film would go on to earn seven Oscar nominations. His personal copy of the Three of a Kind script is also included in the sale (est. $8/12,000). When he started working on the script Chandler had little idea how the screenwriting process worked, however after a difficult start the working relationship between Chandler and Cain would go on to produce one of the most important works of film noir.

The sale will also feature Chandler’s legendary script for The Blue Dahlia (est. $7/10,000). In 1944 the makers of The Blue Dahlia were thrown into a panic as their lead actor Alan Ladd faced the possibility of a second Army tour of duty. Chandler therefore was brought in quickly to begin adapting his unfinished Dahlia story. With this accelerated schedule, Chandler went to the film makers claiming that the only way he would be able to finish the script was if he were allowed to work from home and relapse into drinking. The studio agreed both to this and his request for two limousines to be available to him at all times along with six secretaries in three shifts of two.

Chandler’s last film project was working on the script of Strangers on a Train for Alfred Hitchcock (est. $7/10,000). Chandler was soon replaced after Hitchcock overhead Chandler describe him as a “fat bastard” but enough of his material was used that he was credited as the lead writer.